With Dallas Keuchel coming off the disabled list recently and Lance McCullers Jr. still out with a back injury, the starting rotation for the Astros is weaker than the best team in the AL’s staff should be. This led many to speculate that GM Jeff Luhnow would attempt to add a starter at the trade deadline.
Instead, the Houston Astros stayed put and did not follow the route of the prohibitive National League favorite Los Angeles Dodgers, who added Yu Darvish to a rotation that might be the scariest in the league.
What this reveals of the Astros is that they are just content with rolling the dice on this postseason, and not attempting to make sure they make the World Series. Luhnow is playing a dangerous game betting on a starting rotation that has a collective FIP of 4.03, significantly worse than the Red Sox (3.81) and Indians (3.57).
The Astros need better starting pitching. They have the highest scoring offense in the majors, with a 51 run lead as of August 16th over the 2nd place Nationals. However offense does not win titles in this era of the MLB. Pitching wins championships. Whether it is the dominant Royals bullpen of 2015 or Madison Bumgarner carrying the Giants in 2014, pitching reigns supreme.
This will especially be the case with teams like the Red Sox, Indians, and Dodgers. The Astros cannot currently compete with Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, and Yu Darvish.
What Can Be Done:
The solution to this problem? Simple. Either eat some serious salary or trade a few prospects in order to acquire the aging but still effective Justin Verlander. Verlander cleared revocable waivers on August 4th and is eligible to be traded until August 31st.
Verlander has been impressive in three of his last four starts, winning the first three, allowing only three runs over 21 innings. He clearly can still perform, and has World Series experience. The Astros core is inexperienced with postseason play, and Verlander could bring a steady clubhouse presence in addition to his on-field play
Verlander is not an ace anymore, but he still has dominance in him. With a three man rotation of Verlander, McCullers, and Keuchel in the playoffs, the Astros cannot match the Dodgers or Indians, but they can at least contend. Combine the improved starting rotation with the league-leading offense, and the Astros would have a better shot at the World Series. Without making this move, the Astros look to be even with the surging Red Sox, who have lost two games since July 31st.
How To Get Verlander:
Verlander has a massive contract at 28 million owed to him in 2018 and 2019, so the Astros would have to take on some payroll if they were to trade for him. Luckily for Houston, they have the 16th highest payroll in the league. Assume 15 million per year over the next two years, and throw in MLB’s 84th overall prospect RHP J.B. Bukauskas, and you have a solid deal. The Tigers desperately need prospects and are trying to trim down the fourth highest payroll in the league.
Bukauskas is the third highest rated right handed pitcher in the Astros system, so the hit would not be that devastating to Houston’s farm system. This deal makes sense for both sides, and would greatly help the Astros with their rotation. It is risky to give up the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft and pay $15 million per year for a hot and cold 34 year old pitcher, but risky moves are needed to win in the MLB.
Luhnow needs to recognize the star power he has in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer is championship caliber. With this core the Astros can win now, and not strengthening the rotation before the waiver trade deadline is a mistake that will haunt them come October.
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